Facebook, privacy and social norms – Utne

In July 2010, Pew Research Center published a report
on the online habits of Millennials. The experts involved in the study, who
were mostly academics and executives from companies like Google and Microsoft,
concluded that social media will only grow in importance despite privacy
concerns. In particular, many have argued that sites like Facebook have created new
social norms around which barriers
between “public” and “private” information were being redesigned
. The study
echoed a controversial statement Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg made
earlier in 2010 – than, among young people, privacy
is no longer a “social norm”.

This argument can be a
a little harder to do today. In addition to Facebook privacy debates
settings, over the past few weeks controversies have erupted in a number
states on employers
and schools ask for Facebook passwords
candidates, employees and
students. And while everyone seems to agree that these employers are
exceed their limits, doing something about it is more difficult than
you might think.

On the one hand, the legislation is terribly obsolete,
say it Electronic
Privacy Information
Center
, or EPIC. the
closest thing to a law protecting online privacy is the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act, which was passed in 1986, a good 10 years before
widespread use of the Internet, not to mention smartphones and other new media. So
most of the provisions of the law apply only to landline telephones and physically
stored data, rather than smartphones, social media and “cloud” storage
who have become such a big part of 21st life of the century. For
something like email, the rules are complex and cumbersome, reflecting a
understanding of technology, says the Center
for democracy and technology
. If you happen to store your email on a home
computer, it is fully protected and requires a warrant to be searched. But if
you use a cloud computing service (for example, Gmail), anything you store online can be
accessible without warrant
. This includes webmail, photo sharing sites like
Flickr, spreadsheets, and docs on Google Docs — essentially, much of what’s done now
the personal and professional lives of many people.

Social rules
networking sites are even more complicated. Although law enforcement generally needs
a search warrant to access a suspect’s social media account, they can without
knowledge of the suspect
reports GOOD.
Facebook actually seems to be alone on this policy, as Twitter and Google have
their own rules regarding notifying their users of enforcement actions. In reality,
Twitter had to fight its notice rule against a federal court ruling
in Virginia. And,
according to EPIC, at the same time, the Department of Homeland Security has a
program in progress setting
create fictitious user accounts
on Facebook and Twitter to track suspects
messages (also without their knowledge).

That the DHS
program is legal or constitutional is not very clear. No more relevant
legislation, no one really knows where to draw the line – the high courts not being
exception. In 2010, the Supreme Court heard two email privacy cases, and both
times they chose
fail to address constitutional privacy issues
report it National Legal Research Group. Wrote
Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion of the first case: “The legal risks
error in developing too fully the Fourth Amendment implications of the emergence
technology before its role in society became clear. involvement
being apparently that until innovation stops and lets us take a break, we
should be careful not to flesh out anything too much.

To be fair, Congress has
(halfheartedly) touched on some of these issues. Late last month, Democrat
Congressman Ed Perlmutter proposed an amendment to the FCC Process Reform Act
called “Mind Your Own Business on Passwords”, says Atlantic. While the
the amendment – which was almost immediately rejected – was not directed at the government
spy on it would like
banned employers from asking for workers’ passwords
on sites like
Facebook. The strange reality is that, because of the vote and Facebook
own reaction
to the controversy, the social networking site has now
confidentiality rules stricter than those of the American government, at least with regard to
password protection.

This fact should be pretty
alarming. But if we go back to Zuckerburg’s “social norm” argument, it
make sense. Because technology is changing so fast and because it has such
great influence on our lives, it is easy to simply accept new customs and rules
without seriously considering their impact. Facebook password cases are
unique because they do not involve government agencies or third parties breaking
and enter to access private data. On the contrary, they voluntarily involve users
giving up their privacy under pressure from people in positions of power.

The real danger here is
that social media is still very new, so if a practice like that becomes more
accepted, it might be difficult to undo. Laws and court decisions can be
repealed or overturned, but social norms can be much more permanent. Difficult
them could mean rethinking our place in the new interconnected brave
world.

Sources: Bench
Research Center
, the
Guardian
, Electronic Privacy
Information Center,
Center
for democracy and technology
, GOOD,
national
Legal Research Group
, the
Atlantic
, Technology
Bite
.

Picture by rpongsaj,
licensed Creative
Communal room
.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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